CHARLESTON (WCBD) – South Carolina lawmakers are considering new legal protections for people who call emergency services when a possible drug overdose occurs.
State policymakers want to reduce the number of people dying from heroin and opioid abuse, which is now surpassing the number of people dying on state roads.
The so-called Good Samaritan law would protect people who call for help when witnessing a drug overdose, alleviating any fear of arrest if they too have been using drugs or doing something illegal.
As John Mahon recounts his own struggle with abuse, he says lawmakers should pursue a change to help addicts get access to treatment.
“I’m really grateful that I stayed alive long enough to get to this point,” Mahon said. He started abusing prescription pills as a teen, drank, used marijuana, and by 21-years-old he had turned to harder substances.
“I was addicted to heroine. That was likely the worst,” said Mahon. He said if there wasn’t access to treatment and a strong network of support, he wouldn’t be in long-term recovery today.
“It took a lot of help from family and in the community, people not giving up on me, there were compassionate treatment centers and laws to allows to allow me to get sober.”
Now he is one of a handful of advocates and those working at the grassroots level in Charleston, all trying to change drug and alcohol policies.
“People are dying. I don’t think people have done much to counter that yet,” said Michael-Devereux Bertin, a member of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
He has taken a break-down of the Good Samaritan law to local leaders and is also advocating sensitive solutions on college campuses.
The law would provide legal protections to people who call the authorities to help someone who is overdosing or has a drug or alcohol related injury. The idea is that people who are also taking drugs or doing something illegal won’t fear that trying to help a friend will get them in trouble with the police.
“I think that’s what this policy does, it takes away the fear,” said Bertin.
While passage of the law is one of his main missions, he realizes raising awareness is a start, and there is not an all-encompassing plan to dampen drug and alcohol abuse.
“I don’t think this is going to fix everything tomorrow, but i do think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Bertin. “Any kind of hesitation in an emergency situation could mean the difference between someone living or dying.”